Mate de Coca – Coca Tea – Coca Leaf Peru
I have to admit I kind of got hooked on coca leaf tea or mate de coca when I was in Peru. On a pure functional level, Coca Tea is a popular drink that is consumed to aid in oxygen stimulation in high elevation areas. On an historical and cultural level, Coca Tea was regarded as valuable as currency during the times of the Icans and is still used today in offerings during ceremonies. Growing coca leaves in Peru is a semi legal crop since as you may know it’s the main ingredient used for cocaine production in South America. I say semi-legal however because large quantities of Coca Leaves are also purchased by Coca Cola where certain alkaloids from the leaves are used for flavoring the beverage.
You can order Matte De Coca at any restaurant or bar in Cusco and buy loose leaves to chew from most shops. The locals have learned that to speed the process and help leach out the medicinal alkaloids (cocaine being only one of many alkaloids present in tea leaves), the leaves may be combined with an alkaline substance which the locals call queso negro or black cheese. You rub a tiny bit of the queso negro on one of the leaves then roll about 10 -15 more leaves around this leaf and slowly chew and suck on its juices. It really helped me with high altitude sickness by increasing oxygen, stabilized my stomach as a tonic and gave me a caffeine like energy/buzz. Here in the US, you can get Coca Leaf Tea at Trader Joe’s who sells it in the packet form. Enjoy!